How To Revive Brown Conifers – Reasons and 3 Steps

revive brown conifers

If your conifer has started turning brown, then you might be worried that it’s going to die. It’s actually very common for conifers to die due to one of three main reasons: soil, lighting/watering, or pests.

When this happens to your conifer, don’t fret! There are ways to revive brown conifers and bring them back to life and good health, we’re going to take a look at 3 simple steps you can take to bring your favourite conifer back from the edge of doom.

How to tell if a conifer is dying?

Although it might not be the case, when a conifer starts to turn brown it can often mean it is on it’s at risk of dying. A dying conifer may very well exhibit symptoms such as browning or yellowing of needles, but there are other signs of a dying conifer. Shedding more needles than usual, or showing signs of fungal infections on its bark can be signs too. Additionally, if you notice that the branches are brittle or the tree has an unusually lean, it might be an indication of its declining health.

The most common reasons for brown conifers.

The most common reasons for conifers turning brown or dying are over and under-watering or over or under-fertilising. Other reasons for conifer death include plant diseases and pests, including aphids, whiteflies, scale insects and mealybugs but today we’re going to look at the top two reasons.

Reason 1: Over or Under Watering

While conifers enjoy healthy moist soil around their roots, over-watering kills most conifers because it causes the roots to rot. If you have a plant that’s been in the same pot for years, chances are you’re overwatering it. The best way to check if your conifer needs water is to stick your finger into the soil up to your first knuckle. If the soil is dry up to that point, it’s time to water. If you feel moisture at that level, hold off on watering until the top inch of soil feels dry again.

Reason 2: Under and Over Fertilising

Fertilisers contain salts that can build up in the soil over time, too much salt can cause root burn and eventually kill your conifer. It’s important to use a fertiliser designed for conifers so you know how much salt it contains. Use the fertiliser at half strength every two weeks during the growing season, or as indicated by package directions, once the roots have developed into the wider surrounding soil then you can fertilise less – at this point it is important to mulch around the base so that the topsoil and shallow roots can retainer moisture.

How to revive a dying conifer

The first step to help you revive a brown conifer is to make sure it is actually dead or dying. If you’re not entirely sure, then pinch the needles at the base of the plant to see if they come off easily. Live conifers should snap back and release their needles when you pull them. Dead branches will be brittle, and the needles won’t come off easily.

If you discover your conifer is dying and in the worst shape, don’t panic – there are some simple steps that can help bring it back to top shape.

Step 1: Water

Conifers like their roots to never dry out, so water them deeply every week. If you don’t want to get your shoes wet, use a watering can with a long spout and water from the base of the plant up, rather than getting the leaves wet. Conifers prefer well-drained soil, if your soil is very heavy or swampy, consider digging it out and adding more organic material such as peat moss or bark chips. If drainage is still poor, consider adding a layer of gravel to the bottom of the root zone. By enabling a well-draining soil you can ensure that your roots are receiving the right amount of water without drying out or developing root rot from being sat in water for too long. If you’ve read our blog that discusses how to revive a dying cordyline, then the watering steps are quite similar.

Step 2: Feed and Mulch

If you’ve had a conifer for some time, either in the garden directly or in a pot – it’s likely that your soil could be losing nutrients and the conifer could be dying because of this. Give your conifer a nutrient boost by raking back the surrounding soil by around 6 to 12 inches, then spread a slow-release fertiliser that is either made specifically for conifers or a simple fish blood and bone fertiliser.

After feeding, it’s important to provide a good layer of mulch to help the soil retain water around the base and the shallow roots of the tree. Any mulch will do the trick, but naturally, the conifer will mulch with pine needle litter or similar.

Step 3: Pruning

If you see light brown patches across your tree and you’ve checked or given more water and fertiliser, then it might be that your tree has suffered some wind or sun damage. The needles will turn a light brown when they have been damaged and the recent storms in the UK have certainly resulted in damaged conifers up and down the country.

To trim and prune, ensure that you only take the very outer light brown tips and trim ever so slightly back, if you reach the internal brown layer then you will have trimmed too far as the tree will struggle to grow new foliage once pruned this far back.

If you see light green shoots around the tree, then this is the opposite of a dying conifer and the tree is showing signs of growth – so avoid pruning these and keep checking back for new growth for signs of a tree coming back to life.

brown conifer needles

Brown Conifer Frequently Asked Questions

How do I determine the cause of browning?

A close examination of your conifers may reveal the cause. For example, inspect for signs of pest infestation such as visible insects, holes or sawdust. Alternatively, check the soil moisture and drainage. It might also be worthwhile to have a soil test to check for nutrient deficiencies.

How much water do conifers need?

Conifers generally prefer well-drained, moist soil. However, the exact amount of water needed can vary depending on the species, the local climate, and soil conditions. It’s advisable to maintain a consistent watering schedule, especially during dry periods.

How should I fertilize my conifers?

Utilize a balanced, slow-release fertilizer specially formulated for conifers or evergreens. The best time to fertilize is in late winter to early spring to provide essential nutrients for the growing season.

How can I prevent future browning?

Regular monitoring, adequate watering, proper fertilization, and pest control are vital to preventing future browning. Maintaining a healthy growing environment and addressing issues promptly can keep your conifers green and thriving.

Are brown conifers dead?

While brown needles on conifers can be a cause for concern, it doesn’t always mean the tree is dead. Conifers naturally shed older needles, which can turn brown before falling off. However, if the entire tree or a significant portion of it turns brown, it could be a sign of stress or disease which could lead to death.


If you take the right steps to help your conifer out, it should improve and be able to live a healthy and happy life. Whether you’re caring for your own tree or helping someone else’s, these tips are definitely something you should consider. And if your conifer still isn’t living up to its potential after doing everything we’ve listed above, it may be time to say goodbye – some conifers are just past the point of saving!

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